Home News and Events News South East nurse reflects on life as a cancer nurse two years on from the pandemic

Monica Capela, is a Lead SACT (Systemic Anti-Cancer Therapy) nurse at Rutherford Cancer Centre Thames Valley – a UK-wide network of specialist centres treating private and NHS patients – which is located in Reading.

According to Capela, who is 46 years old and is originally from Portugal but now lives in Reading with her family, the past two years has brought challenges for all nurses, but behind the scenes she and her team have been continuing to treat vulnerable patients amid the wider strain on the UK’s health services. To mark International Nurses Day, she reflects on how far the centre and her team have come in spite of the major challenges that face the UK’s health care system, and the pandemic’s particular impact on cancer services.

Capela said: “I have been a nurse for over 23 years now, and specifically an oncology nurse for 15 years. I have only been working at Rutherford for a year, so I joined at a time when we were in the midst of the pandemic and still dealing with the realities of changing rules and restrictions.”

As the clinical lead for the department, Capela is responsible for managing patients and staff, working closely with consultants, handling referrals, booking pre-assessments, educating patients on the side effects of their treatment options, and administering treatments such as immunotherapy and chemotherapy. Capela and her team also offer a 24-hour support helpline for patients.

“The days are never the same, particularly as you have to wear a lot of hats to make sure things run smoothly. We have a lot of roles, but we also have a lot of support – so time management is key. What I really love about the job is that you feel like you are able to make a difference to someone who is going through the hardest journey of their life. It definitively motivates you to carry on.

“Oncology is an area of nursing where you need to provide a lot of support – every patient has a different experience, and they are going through their own personal journey, and it is my job to ensure we make it as comfortable as possible for them.

“During the height of the pandemic, patients weren’t able to bring a friend or family member to any of their appointments. Added to that we obviously had very strict protocols for social distancing and PPE which made what is already a very isolating experience even harder. As we are a private centre which treats NHS patients, we have always been able to be a little bit more flexible by being able to spread patients out.

“There was a lot of anxiety amongst patients too. They had heard about the backlog, risks of treatments being cancelled, and unsure of what was safe or best for them. Cancer patients are immune compromised, so they need to be carefully managed and we need to ensure we mitigate any risk factors. Now it is a lot clearer and we are able to ensure a Covid-safe environment for patients and staff as we have the necessary protocols in place. Now, generally speaking, patients seem to be more settled which is so important.

Rutherford has recently launched the Rutherford Academy to support apprentice nurses through their training whilst at University.

“As a profession one of the biggest challenges we face is recruitment as there aren’t enough oncology or SACT trained nurses. It’s exciting that we are now able to support the next generation of nurses through their training. Also, in the NHS there is now a backlog of patients either waiting to be screened or treated. We have offered our support to the NHS to help relieve the burden and would be really privileged to be able to play our part in that and help the system.

“Cancer stats get worse every year – now one in two will get cancer. It’s hard to not be alarmed by that, but equally, patients need to understand that time is precious when it comes to this disease. The later you wait, the worse the prognosis. Sadly, a big impact of the pandemic is that we’re now seeing more late stage cancers being diagnosed. My advice to anyone who may have recently been diagnosed, or perhaps are experiencing symptoms but are too scared to get checked, is to give yourself the best possible chance and know that you will have the support from us every step of the way.”

Rutherford’s independent network currently consists of four cancer treatment centres across the UK and draws patients from across the world. The centres offer high energy proton beam therapy and conventional therapies such as chemotherapy, immunotherapy and radiotherapy, with state-of-the-art diagnostics including MRI and CT.

Across the four Rutherford Cancer Centres, there’s an expert team of oncology nurses, each one playing a vital role in the cancer treatment process and the overall patient experience.

The global celebration of nursing is held annually on 12 May – the anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale. The theme for this year is ‘a voice to lead: invest in nursing and respect rights to secure global health’.

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